We believe human life has eternal significance.
When we start to consider human life, one of the biggest
problems we face is 'nothing buttery' (otherwise known as
'ontological reductionism'). It is the confusion we experience
between 'is' and 'is only'. For example, it is clearly true to
say the Mona Lisa is a collection of pigments on a canvas
backing. But to say the Mona Lisa is nothing but a collection
of pigments on a canvas backing is quite another thing.
A similar trick is often played when talking about people.
That the human race is a species of naked ape can hardly be
denied, but this does not mean the human race is nothing but a
species of naked ape.
We agree that all the things the scientists tell us about
ourselves are true, but we do not believe this exhausts all that
can, or should, be said. We believe that people are more than
just collections of chemicals. We believe that people are more
than machines produced by strands of DNA.
We believe that people matter. We believe that the
things you do, your hopes and fears - they have significance.
One day, this world will be destroyed, but nevertheless, your
life and what you choose to do with it, matters today, and will
continue to matter in the future. You are important!
Choose your response:
We believe you are important - your life is important -
because God says you are important. You don't have to do
anything to become significant. It does not depend on your
intelligence, your money, your parents, your class or your
country - it depends on God.
Clearly, this is a more solid base for believing that
human beings have value than many of the alternatives. It
is arguable that without a God nothing is significant, so
nothing can give your life significance.
We talk about 'eternal significance', but when you think
about it, if something is to have real significance, it must
have eternal significance. If something is unimportant,
what difference does it make if it becomes unimportant in
the next five minutes, five years, or five million years?
In the long run, it's all the same.
In the end, whatever you care about, it must last for
eternity, or it is pointless. So, if human life - your life
- is to have any real significance, something that is the
essential you must last, or at least have the possibility of
lasting, into eternity. This is what we call the 'soul'.
It is important to distinguish between the Christian
concept of the soul and the meaning in religions such as
Hinduism. In Christianity, the soul is individual, personal.
In Hinduism, the soul is more like an impersonal substance
out of which people are formed. In Hinduism and Buddhism,
the soul may survive death and be re-incarnated, but the
individual - the person - who died is gone forever.
Some people object that the ideas put together here do
not necessarily depend on each other.
Many people say that their life has value, even though
they don't believe in God. Anybody can say it, and
almost anybody can believe it, if they try hard enough. But
very few people can point to any reason for believing it.
If there is no God, what can possibly give life any
value, any purpose, any meaning?
The common claim is that human relationships, and in
particular children, give life meaning. They certainly
provide something vital. But the chances are that a hundred
years from now, you and your children will both be dead. Two
hundred years from now, who will even remember that you ever
existed? Ten million years from now, what will be the value
of your life?
This used to be quite popular in certain circles - the
existentialist position: "I have no reason to believe that
life has any value, but I will believe it nevertheless." Or,
sometimes, I will act as though it has value, while
believing this to be untrue. The obvious question in reply
to all this is... why?
What is the point in pretending that life has value when
you 'know' it really has none? What is the point? Basing
your actions on what you know to be false is hardly
'authentic' - and why is being authentic a value for
existentialists, when you believe that nothing has any
value? It is not so much a philosophy as a refusal to engage
Clearly, the only alternative is that human life has no
eternal significance. We are nothing but complex
collections of chemicals. We are machines produced by DNA,
but that DNA itself has no purpose and no significance.
I have met many people who have claimed to believe this -
at least, they made this claim at the start of a
conversation. I only recall one person who continued with
this position when I started to ask about it. When you think
about it, this is an incredible position: everything you do
is meaningless; everything you achieve is pointless; your
whole life, whatever you may do, has no value. I do not
believe that anyone can live consistently with this belief.
So whether by design or by practical application we all
live our lives in some degree as though they had purpose or
meaning, or at least we wish we could. Even the very
search for meaning suggests that we value our lives.
Please consider the next point